25 August 2014

In which snails and lobsters make a run for it

Saturday morning dawned grey and cold and wet, but it seemed a fair penance for the unusually cool but bright week of weather we'd been treated to over the rest of the cruise. The most dramatic, as we learned while boarding the water taxi to the Rialto markets, were the rough waters brought on by the wind.
A small canal between the Lagoon and the Grand Canal
From the industrial port, through little back alleyways of canals, to the Grand Canal, we made our way past converted mansions (now condos) and municipal buildings to the Rialto bridge, and the markets in its shadow. 
The Rialto fish market
Joining our adventure was the ship's chef, looking for inspiration for the evening's farewell dinner.
Characters of the market
Stalls of beautiful vegetables are similar all over the world, I've found, so I'm often more interested in watching the shoppers, in this case mostly older men and women with little rolling carts and no care for anyone else's toes. Carlos (our chef) picked up some rocket (arugula), green beans, tomatoes, and green plums from his favorite vegetable vendor, then led us on to the fish market, located in a nearby covered plaza (formerly the entrance courtyard of a single family home).
We're having octopus for dinner!
For the most part, people buy their fish, then hand it to guys at the end of the stall, who are happy to descale and filet the fish. It's an impressively fast display of knife skills. 
Carlos teaches us the difference between shrimp types
Carlos bought ocotopus and lagoon shrimp (whose shells are sorter, because they have no natural enemies) for our dinner, then let us alone to explore around the market.

My favorites were the slowly escaping snails.

24 August 2014

In which Shakespeare was never here

On Friday morning, we started with "light stretching" on the sun deck led by the on-board physical therapist. On other days, we'd been treated to beautiful riverscapes or ancient architectural wonders, but this morning it was all about the giant Norwegian cruise ship coming around the corner and parallel parking directly behind our boat.

After our usual delicious breakfast, we boarded a bus for Verona, hyped for promotional purposes as "the city of love". 
The ancient (and repaired with brick) Stone Bridge and the hills of Verona
The city is built on a bend in the Adige river, with the oldest parts on the 'inside' and the newer (we're talking ninth century, here) constructions across the stone bridge in the hills. 

Built around a system of squares, the city passed from one ruling dynastic family to another, each building their own sets of palaces next to each other, so the history of the city can be traced through its architecture. 
Now a museum and university building
It was by are the busiest and most crowded place we had been all week. Nowhere was that more true than the home of the 'Capulets', which includes a balcony, a well-loved statue of a young woman, and many many messages of eternal love. Entirely unnecessary, as far as I'm concerned, but luckily our walking tour didn't dwell there too long. 

Instead, we made our way to the ancient Roman amphitheater, used today for the Verona opera festival in summertime.
Seats dropped into the Roman amphitheater
The floor of the arena is raised and covered, half with seats, half with the stage. Seats (with back support) are also placed along the benches up the side, and the festival puts on a different opera every couple of days.
Not sure which production this is for, but quite a modernest take on whatever it is
Some of the scenery is so large that it's moved by giant crane over the side of the amphitheater, rather than being brought in through one of the tunnels. It's then stored in the middle of the square outside, in front of City Hall.
Classical columns on City Hall to contrast the Egyptian set for Aida
The first opera performed there was Verdi's Aida in 1913. It's the only opera they perform every year, which took me a moment to remember, as we were staring at a phalanx of sphinxes during lunch. "Wait... aren't we in Europe?" 

23 August 2014

In which we return to the lagoon

We met the ship on the Chioggia side of the Adriatic Sea, and had a lovely late afternoon of sailing back toward Venice.
Leaving Chioggia
The Venetian lagoon extends all the way out to Chioggia, so we were sailing along the industrial port for a brief way, the transitioned into small coastal villages, complete with laundry hanging from windows and fishermen thigh-deep in water waving as we passed.
A small lagoon town
It was certainly relaxing to sit on deck and watch the coastline sail past, but I was even more interested in seeing recognizable parts of Venice out the glass walls during dinner. 
The Doge's Palace (next to St. Mark's) at sunset

Another river boat was docked where we had spent our first two nights (apparently a French company, only patronized by the French), and we went on past St. Marks, and the mouth of the Grand Canal, and over to the larger and newer of the two Venetian  ports. Morning exercises won't be as picturesque, but we will have scenic cruising on Saturday afternoon, and we're docked close to the airport for Sunday (apparently about twenty minutes), so that will be less stressful. Hard to believe we're that close to the end, or that it's been less than a week since I got here.

In which emperors and princes and city councils share a vision forRavenna

We left the ship on the Po river early Thursday morning, and bussed to Ravenna, an old capital city from the medieval era. Chosen by emperors because it was set inland between mountain ranges and bordered by rivers, the original construction of the city was much like Venice - canals for streets and buildings built on sand and silt.
Very cool (but hard to see) purple glass on the light fixtures on a municipal building
The real draws of the city are the impressively well-preserved mosaics in a couple of churches and a mausoleum. Individual pieces of glass are set at varying angles in lye binder to catch the light and refract it for maximum sparkle.
Side view of the mosaic ceiling just before the apse
The main basilica is incredibly plain on the outside, but boasts a beautifully mosaic-filled apse and an octagonal nave with baroque frescoes.
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare
Central dome of the octagonal nave

Ravenna also boasts the tomb of Dante, mosaic workshops, and the most efficient post office I've ever visited. Most amazing to me is that over the course of nearly fifteen hundred years, rulers and town councils consistently chose to preserve, restore, and promote the jewels of the city.  

21 August 2014

In which PASTA

After a slightly rainy breakfast Wednesday morning (made us more grateful for the indoor restaurant with beautiful glass walls looking onto the river), most of the cruisers boarded busses to Bolonga, city of knowledge, food, and left-wing politics.
Arcades of Bologna
Like Padua, Bologna's city center is mostly covered by these arcades. There are a few dating back to the thirteenth century, but some have been added and restored as recently as twenty years ago. By the time we arrived, the rain had cleared up, so we had a lovely walking tour led by a local archeologist.
Father of rhinoplasty Gasparo Tagliacozzi
I was intrigued by our stop in the dissection classroom of the university, especially when this man's statue was pointed out. The room was ringed by figures of important thinkers, but this man was on the wall with some other Bolongese, and was introduced as the inventor of rhinoplasty. Apparently prostitutes with venereal diseases were marked by having their noses cut off, and this gentleman was kind enough to invent a way for them to carry on their business with restored faces. 

Of course, this whole walking tour was just vamping until the best pasta restaurant in Bologna was ready to receive us.
Custom-made rolling pin with rested pasta dough on a giant rolling board
We learned how to mix, roll, and cut pasta dough, taught by a woman who learned from her grandmother, and has been working professionally (making about one hundred portions of various pastas daily) for twenty five years. 
Making fagottini or 'basket' pasta
Filled pastas use a slightly thicker, wetter dough. Shapes like farfalle, tagliatelle, and angel hair use a thinner dough that's dried for a few hours hanging over the edge of a table, which lets gravity help in the process of lengthening the dough.
Hand-rolled pasta sheet after several hours of rest
The whole sheet is then rolled up and sliced into ribbons of the desired thickness. When you get toward the end of the roll, where the edge is uneven, that's where angel hair, and non-uniform pieces for soups come from.
Quadretti, garganelli, tortelloni, ravioli, sacchettoni, tortellini, tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuchini, capellini
What did you have for lunch today?

In which an ancient university had modern-day problems or, Women neverstay where the patriarchy puts them

 This afternoon, we bussed to Padua. In order to get to the section of the Po we'll be cruising the rest of the trip, the ship had to enter the Adriatic Sea, briefly. Because it's a river boat, it lacks certification to carrying passengers in open water like that, so everyone got to disembark.

Industrial ships at the edge of the Lagoon

Our first stop in Padua was the Basilica of St. Anthony, which is one of the four Italian basilicas owned by the Vatican outside their grounds in Rome. This technically makes today a multi-country adventure. No pictures are allowed inside, but I was most impressed by the high reliefs (example here) in the chapel of the tomb of St. Anthony, which are placed in flat alcoves with amazing perspective paintings behind them (it looks like they're in arches that go on forever). For a lovely description of the art in the entire building (which has been in process for nearly a millennium), check out the basilica's website, here

Next, we visited the second oldest university in Italy (perhaps the world), marking dutiful pilgrimage at the Dipartimento di Geografia, and stopping by the building which houses the medical dissection amphitheater. 

Central courtyard of the original medical building
Also in that space is a statue of the first woman to be awarded a degree from the institution (and perhaps ever, from a university). The daughter of a vey wealthy Venetian family, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia wanted to study theology, but the deans of the institution decided that having a woman get a degree at all was sufficiently controversial - they didn't need to deal with the trouble of letting her have opinions about God as well. 

Monument to Elena Piscopia
The statue is strangely barred off from the rest of the courtyard (to hide or protect, I couldn't tell), but it's a nice reminder that there have always been women who break the mold. As Aunt Lib pointed out today, "how many of your friends have great-grandmothers who graduated from college?" I don't know, but I'm grateful to Elsie Rigg for valuing education. 

19 August 2014

In which we cruise!

After yoga on the upper deck at seven this morning (each pose brought a new piece of Italian architecture into focus), we cruised away from Venice, across the lagoon and toward Chioggia (sometimes called little Venice, and part of the fortifications in process to protect the city from going completely underwater).
These sticks are for mussel and clam cultivation in the edge of the deep channel in the lagoon.
Although the weather was a bit uncooperative (several bouts of mild rain), we had a lovely several hours sailing through the deep channel of the lagoon, marked by the thick wooden tripods spaced incrementally. 
The outer defense island of the lagoon, where malaria patients were sent at one time.
As we came into port (a rather industrial section, with an amusing piece of Arabic-language graffiti on the wall) Aunt Lib, some other Elgin Symphony Orchestra supporters, and I enjoyed a light lunch in the relatively deserted cafe at the front of the boat. Pizza, salad, and prosciutto - what more could one ask for?
Covered cafe between the sun deck and the bridge

18 August 2014

In which a tour group IS fun, too

After walking through St. Mark's Square earlier today, tonight was our opportunity to actually visit the inside of the Basilica. Led by an English art historian, we were treated to a private visit of the sanctuary and the crypt, as well as excellent explanations of the mosaics and significance of the marbles used in the construction of the building (the pulpit may be higher, but the Doge's seat opposite it is enclosed in purple marble).
Pulpit with less fancy marble

I was first stuck by how much this space looks like the Aya Sofia (in Istanbul... See a few posts back for stories and pictures of my visit there four years ago), both because of the mosaics, and the tiered domes as you come in. The mosaics in the domes represent the various forms of Christ - announced, anointed, crucified, triumphant - but my favorite was the last one, closest to the narthex, of the Holy Spirit, with tongues of flame on the heads of the twelve disciples. 
The holy spirit descends on the disciples
In the crypt (which was waterlogged until thirty years ago, and where one can apparently be married) in the place where St. Mark's relics used to be, now sits a modern cross.
Modern Merano glass cross
We had a lovely walk home, along the lagoon, with just enough of a breeze to feel lively but not cold. Tomorrow we sail away from Venice, and visit Padua. I anticipate an academic afternoon. 

In which the pigeons have grown up as much as I have

This morning, we did a long walking tour of Venice, through winding alleys and across narrow canals, eventually making our way to the Doge's Palace and the Basilica of St. Mark. One of the things I've been gearing myself up for was the onslaught of pigeons in St. Mark's Square. In my memory, it looks rather like this:

Photo taken from this article about the 'battle' for the square.
There were at least that many tourists waiting for the mechanical clock to strike, but it seemed like nearly no pigeons were around at all. The birds that were there didn't even seem that interested in the bread and corn they were being offered. Perhaps it's my memory that inflated the fervor of the attacks, but somehow it seems that the pigeons have matured a bit in my absence.
My brother and me in 1998

17 August 2014

In which travel is just plain fun

Flying to Europe is fun. It sounds obvious, but after recent adventures involving flights through Europe, it is so much easier to stop just on the other side of the Atlantic.  There is also a lot to be said for a direct flight, and a pleasant seat companion, and landing in the morning, local time. Other things that are much easier in Europe? Customs. I'm so used to scrutiny, and questions, and harsh lighting. The Marco Polo airport is quiet and calm and made of beautiful red brick.

First views of the lagoon from the bus
I checked in with the cruise agents, and joined three couples (all retired) from my flight for the shuttle ride to the port. The airport is east of the city of Venice proper, so instead we got views of winding roads, brick houses, and vibrant colors. 

Many people live outside Venice in the city of Mestre, on the mainland
I'm now sitting in the main lounge of the ship, waiting for Aunt Lib to arrive, and for our room to be ready. There's a great conversation about how people don't dress up to ride planes anymore, and that's just deplorable. Perhaps I'll have more in common with other passengers than I thought...

The main lounge of the ship - lost of mirrors
"Ti Amo" just started playing in the lounge. My strongest association with this song is the excellent live-action Asterisk and Obelix movie (if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it), so there's hope on all fronts. 

In which I try something new

When I came back from the sibling adventure to Morocco last January, I said I wanted to go somewhere easy next. Maybe Prague, or Germany, or somewhere I had no chance of knowing the language, like Thailand. Little did I know, I'd have just such an opportunity a mere eight months later.

Through a series of lucky-for-me logistical machinations, Great-Aunt Lib invited me to join her for a week-long cruise in and around Venice on the Po river. 

This appears to be the food service we will be privy to
I'm looking forward to getting some quality time with Aunt Lib, who I haven't really seen in quite a while, and experiencing a totally new kind of travel. She's done this kind of thing before, and I was lucky enough to join her and another aunt on a Nile cruise when they came to visit me in Cairo (actually only four years ago now, though it feels much more distant), but that was the three of us, a crew of six, and a boat that sometimes moved by wind power only. 

This time, there will be other guests, on- and off-board activities, and a dress code (relatively mild). I'm not sure who takes these kinds of trips, but I look forward to finding connections with all sorts of people. Four decks worth of people with stories as good as Aunt Lib's should make an interesting week. 

I'm going to try this whole blogging thing again, hopefully applying some of what I've learned at work, and including pictures of our adventures. Any advice on being a gregarious guest would be appreciated.